“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” proclaimed the maxim in the small black frame that looked down on everyone who entered the office of William Wrigley Jr. The Chicago Cubs owner and corporate executive whose name is virtually synonymous with chewing gum took his own advice to heart, and in the history of the team, few administrators matched him for energy and business acumen. He also understood people, which contributed to his success. Wrigley was “red-cheeked, dewlapped and genial,” according to Time magazine in a 1929 cover story, and “given to exercise, to backslapping, to the indulgence of strange whims that usually turn out to be investments.”
Wrigley’s investment in the Cubs started with lunch counter magnate Charles Weeghman, a longtime fixture in the city’s business community. “Weeghman is rated a splendid sportsman in Chicago,” gushed the December 30, 1915, Sporting News in a page 1 photo caption. “He is a man who has made himself, having started as a waiter in a restaurant, and now he owns a dozen or so of his own.”
Weeghman parlayed his restaurant fortune into the ownership of the Federal League’s Chicago Whales, and in 1914 built Weeghman Park on the corner of Clark and Addison streets. When the independent Federal League folded after the 1915 season, Weeghman bought the Chicago Cubs. “I was young—and cocky—and decided that I could afford to sink a half million or so in the Cubs,” Weeghman reminisced in 1936 to a Chicago Daily Tribune reporter. “My string of restaurants were paying big and, to the best of my figuring, I was worth between eight and ten million dollars.”
Weeghman and his millions led a group of investors who on January 20, 1916, purchased the Cubs for $500,000 from Cincinnati publisher Charles P. Taft, the brother of President William Howard Taft. At that time, this was the highest price ever paid for a major league team. The Cubs immediately vacated their second West Side Park (also called the West Side Grounds) and moved across town to Weeghman Park.
Charles Weeghman (left) at the groundbreaking ceremony for Weeghman Park, March 4, 1914. Note the men with shovels in the background. Weeghman built the ballpark for his Chicago Whales, but when the ill-fated Federal League dissolved after the 1915 season, he bought the Cubs.
Charles Weeghman’s new ballpark opened on April 23, 1914. To publicize the event, he took out quarter-page ads in all of Chicago’s daily newspapers. “Tomorrow the Chicago Federal League (Weeghman Park) opens it[s] gates to the Chicago sports-loving public,” he wrote. “This great park, dedicated to clean sport and the furtherance of our national game is yours, not ours. Its destiny is in your hands.” He added that “I have been a baseball fan myself for years; I know good baseball when I see it. This team of baseball players which we have assembled is one of which every Chicagoan can justly feel proud.”
Note the distinctive Weeghman logo (click on the plate to enlarge the image). The restaurateur’s last name is in a flowery script with “CHAS.” (the abbreviation of Charles) in the whirl of the “W.” (Interestingly enough, the “HAS.” sits snugly inside the “C” in the same way that “UBS” fits inside the “C” in the Cubs logo, which was first used on the team’s 1909 road uniform.) The same Weeghman logo is on the handle of a silver spoon that I recently found.
Weeghman had a variety of interests that he was constantly juggling, and as he admitted later, “I wanted to spread out all over the country.” He should have stuck to his restaurants instead of diverting so much of his attention (and money) to not only baseball, but also the movie business as well as high living and night clubs with politicians, show people, and gamblers. Alas, after years of neglect, his finances were–as the New York Times understated in his obituary–”disordered,” and he needed to borrow money.
He didn’t have to look very far for ready cash. Less than a week before Weeghman signed the papers with Charles Taft, at a private dinner attended by some 200 prominent Chicagoans, Weeghman announced the names of the city leaders who had purchased an interest in the club. “I told my friends and associates to name the four biggest business men in Chicago,” Weeghman told his guests, “and then said that I would go out and see them personally regarding taking stock in the purchase of the Cubs.” One of those four men was William Wrigley Jr.
In the coming months, Wrigley continued to assist his friend by buying shares in the Cubs. In December 1916 he bought a $15,000 block of stock, which caused “considerable comment in sporting and financial circles,” according to the Chicago Daily Tribune. Wrigley, however, was unconcerned. At that time he owned $165,000 worth of Cubs stock and remarked that “I wish I had more. I think the Chicago Cubs ought to be owned by Chicago men and I’m glad to be interested. . . . The Cubs form a Chicago institution and there is a sort of civic pride in being interested.”
But William Wrigley was more than just interested. Adhering to his motto, he was enthusiastic, and the more he invested the more passionate he became. The Chicago Daily Tribune began referring to him as “one of the big stockholders of the Cubs,” and he became increasingly involved in the team’s administrative affairs.
All he needed now was a baseball man to help him. . . .